Announcing the 31 Days of Oscar 2019 Blogathon!

From the time Douglas Fairbanks, then President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, hosted the first Awards dinner party for about 250 people on May 16, 1929, to this year’s host-free Oscars ceremony ninety years later, this iconic celebration honoring Hollywood’s finest continues to be just as spectacular and as riddled with both excellence and contentions as the films and filmmakers they honor.

February 23rd, 1939. Serial Oscar winner Bette Davis holding her Oscar for Jezebel as she talks to the film’s director, William Wyler. 11th Academy Awards, Los Angeles.
(Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

If you take a look back at the many Oscar moments in these past 90 years of Oscars ceremonies, you’ll find numerous surprises, disappointments and controversies, which continue to spark debate to this day. That’s where we come in. For the seventh consecutive year, I am once again joining forces with Aurora of Once Upon A Screen aka @CitizenScreen and Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled aka @IrishJayhawk66 to bring you the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon. We hope you’ll consider joining us to make this the best and brightest Oscar blogging event yet.

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Day 3 of the 2018 What A Character! Blogathon

‘Tis the season to recognize the names below the title, as our yearly recognition of those supporting players whose faces you know (but names you might not) concludes today.

Check out Day 1 by Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled and Day 2 at Aurora‘s blog Once Upon a Screen. All the nitty-gritty blogathon details are in the Announcement post. Thanks to my partners in cinematic tribute for making this such a fun project and to Turner Classic Movies for the blogathon title and inspiration. And now on with the show…

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Announcing the SEVENTH Annual What A Character! Blogathon – Dec. 14-16, 2018

9th August 1933: Jean Harlow (1911 - 1937) is Hollywood sex goddess Lola Burns and Frank Morgan (1890 - 1949) is her father, Pop Burns, in 'Bombshell', (aka 'Blonde Bombshell') directed by Victor Fleming. Mary Forbes (1883 - 1974) plays Mrs Middleton.
Frank Morgan and June Brewster are just two of the superb character actors in BOMBSHELL (1933). Image via Doctor Macro

When you re-watch your favorite films, what keeps you coming back for more? A great story with sharp writing? No doubt. Beautiful costumes, swanky set designs, and stunning cinematography? Most assuredly. But the performances are key to any movie. While we all look forward to the popular leading actors, it is the stand-out, scene-stealing supporting actors that feel like “home.”

Wise-cracking Eve Arden, nurturing Louise Beavers, sassy Thelma Ritter, double-take pro Edward Everett Horton, tart-tongued Edna May Oliver, gravelly-voiced Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, fatherly Charles Coburn, frazzled Franklin Pangborn, bullfrog-voiced, barrel-chested Eugene Pallette, cigar-chomping Ned Sparks… these and so many more lovable character actors are who we look forward to seeing as our dearest old chums. We all could use a trusted sidekick.

stagecoach-1939a-700w
John Ford’s STAGECOACH (1939) was rife with talented characters.

For the 7th consecutive year, we as the blogathon hosting trio of Aurora of Once Upon A Screen and @CitizenScreen, Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled and @IrishJayhawk66, and myself, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and @Paula_Guthat invite you to join us for the WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2018, December 14, 15, 16, as we pay tribute to the brilliance of the supporting players.

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“Behind a Mask” with Louisa May Alcott

As you may be aware, Greta Gerwig is filming her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 masterwork Little Women. This version is set to star Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, James Norton, Florence Pugh, Chris Cooper, and Meryl Streep, and is slated for a Christmas 2019 release.

In the last couple of years alone, there’s already been a TV miniseries and a feature film, and in my opinion, it will be difficult to improve on (the best) Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version.

No matter… Little Women is a perennial springboard for many imaginations.

Gerwig has been involved with this production for two years or more, having been consulted to rewrite a draft just as she was finishing up her own script for Lady Bird, and the producer of the ’94 installment, Robin Swicord, is convinced she can innovate. Word is, Gerwig’s take will concentrate on the March sisters’ adult lives — not so much as girls, more as young women. So possibly less Concord with Marmee, and more Europe with Aunt March for Amy and New York City for Jo, say. (No word on whether she’ll be able to make Amy any less of a selfish, vain brat.)

Perhaps if this version does well, Gerwig or someone else will be interested in other Alcott works…such as a fascinating short story called “Behind a Mask.” I first became aware of Alcott’s short fiction while watching a PBS documentary on her and her family. Turns out, her life was no picnic. Much like the March girls, the Alcotts were broke a lot of the time (both families had four daughters, and a lot of Little Women seems to have been autobiographical). Her father was a Transcendentalist like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and although he wrote and spoke about that ideology all over the U.S., in addition to establishing an experimental school, he failed to consistently support the family. So what’s a nice girl from a good family supposed to do for money in mid-19th century New England? While still a teenager, Alcott worked at a variety of jobs: teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and, most often, writer. And the most lucrative writing was pulp fiction, or what was in the 1860s referred to by Alcott herself and others as “blood and thunder tales.”

Under the name A.M. Barnard, she wrote stories with somewhat opposite themes as Little Women. Gold-digging, revenge, adultery, murder, stealing, deception, betrayal, blackmail…you name it, A.M. put it in a story. This is stuff that would have given Professor Bhaer an attack of the vapors. Much like Jane Austen and the “horrid novels” she loved 70 years before, Alcott had a taste for less rarefied stories — and was able to make it pay. In 1862, she wrote in her journal, “Rewrote the last story, and sent it to L., who wants more than I can send him.” “Behind a Mask” is among the most interesting of this melodramatic oeuvre.

The story takes place in contemporary England and concerns a penniless governess who arrives at a great house and ingratiates herself with its inmates, the wealthy Coventry family, except for the oldest son and his cousin, who don’t trust her from the beginning. Only they can sense — spoiler alert: rightly so — that the demure young woman is nothing like what she seems.

When alone, Miss Muir’s conduct was decidedly peculiar. Her first act was to clench her hands and mutter between her teeth, with passionate force, “I’ll not fail again if there is power in a woman’s wit and will!” She stood a moment motionless, with an expression of almost fierce disdain on her face, then shook her clenched hand as if menacing some unseen enemy….Kneeling before the one small trunk, which held her worldly possessions, she opened it, drew out a flask, and mixed a glass of some ardent cordial, which she seemed to enjoy extremely as she sat on the carpet, musing, while her quick eyes examined every corner of the room….Still sitting on the floor she unbound and removed the long abundant braids from her head, wiped the pink from her face, took out several pearly teeth, and slipping off her dress appeared herself indeed, a haggard, worn, and moody woman of thirty at least. (11)

Soon enough, this unassuming yet devious personage puts the household in chaos, and brother is pitted against brother:

He looked at her with a despairing glance and stretched his hand toward her beseechingly. She seemed to figure a blow, for suddenly she clung to Gerald with a faint cry. The act, the look of fear, the protecting gesture Coventry involuntarily made, were too much for Edward, already excited by conflicting passions. In a paroxysm of blind wrath he caught up a large pruning knife left there by the gardener, and would have dealt his brother a fatal blow had he not warded it off with his arm. (34-35)

I’m not going to say much more about the story, other than it’s short enough to be effectively adapted as a feature film and twisty enough to keep people guessing until the last scene. It ought to be helmed by a woman, in any case, someone who can portray the 19th-century social/class differences without bogging the story down, as they are integral to the world Alcott writes about. Perhaps Gerwig, Sofia Coppola, or Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham, Bride and Prejudice) would take it on.

Quotations from Behind A Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott. Edited and with an introduction by Madeleine Stern. Harper Collins Perennial, 2004.

Little Women (1994) stills from Movie-Screencaps.com

Lionel Atwill’s Double Life

Lionel Atwill, a fixture of action and horror films throughout the 1930s and 1940s, is a familiar face whose background was unknown to me, so I figured he’d be great to write about for the 7th Annual What A Character! Blogathon. To be honest, there’s a lot more story here than I expected.

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Curse of the Demon (1957) gifs

With a ton of alternate titles and a couple different versions (U.S. and U.K.), this film based on the short story “Casting the Runes” by M.R. James is both genuinely creepy and a fitting part of Turner Classic Movies’ tribute to Peggy Cummins, who passed away on December 29, 2017 at the age of 92. If you haven’t seen it, or even if you have, you ought to, plus it’s the TCM Party tonight at 9:45 p.m. Eastern with guest host Jim Phoel aka @DraconicVerses.

It’s got some really gorgeous black-and-white cinematography by Edward Scaife (who also shot The Third Man) under the direction of dollar-from-a-dime maestro Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past, Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie). I made some apparently oversized gifs from it (too big for tumblr) and I’m parking ’em here. More gifs after the jump…

curse of the demon plane

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#TCMFF 2017 Recap

I love reporting all the goings on from the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, held every year in Los Angeles. Not only is it a chance to see some great films with appreciative audiences, it’s also great to catch up with online #TCMParty friends who quickly become IRL friends, and to reunite with offline friends. It’s just a big classic movie love fest, as you can read below…more tweets and IG posts after the jump.

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Review: Movie Nights with the Reagans

I sometimes have difficulty separating an artist from their art, although I’ve been able to accomplish it several times. Would I be able to do so when the artist in question was a President of the United States whose art included not only films, but policies that transformed the Republican Party, the American economy, and the course of the Cold War? Movie Nights with the Reagans by Mark Weinberg has arrived to pose this question.

Whatever your feelings about Reagan’s politics, and mine are by no means completely positive, this new book affirms any belief in the influence of film on society. It is written by Mark Weinberg, who in 1981, when the book begins, was serving as an assistant press secretary at the White House. He was one of the few staff members invited along on the Reagans’ weekends at Camp David, where there is a movie theater. In the privacy of the Aspen Lodge, the First Family and their guests sat in comfy chairs as popcorn was served in baskets, and watched contemporary and classic movies on Friday and Saturday nights, in good times (landslide re-election) and in bad (assassination attempts).

The book is organized mostly chronologically, with one chapter per film, beginning with the first weekend trip of Reagan’s presidency in February of 1981 (the film was 9 to 5) all the way up to 1987, including September of 1985, when the chosen film was Ronald and Nancy’s only one together, Hellcats of the Navy, which was also the last feature in which either Reagan appeared. The connections between the films and the memories in each chapter can be tenuous but are nonetheless fascinating. Weinberg was in a unique position of truly unparalled access, enabling him to now deliver an assortment of anecdotes; he seems to have been both an employee and a friend of both the Reagans, with a closeness verging on that of family.

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31 Days of Oscar: Day 3

While there’s still a week of Best Picture nominees and winners left in TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar tribute, today our Sixth Annual blogathon of the same name draws to a close with a bumper crop of fabulous and informative entries centered on the Golden Man and his history with everyone from Janet Gaynor to Forrest Gump and Agnes Varda.

Always Try discusses Katharine Hepburn’s [many] Oscar Wins.

Another Old Movie Blog analyzes the context around Joan Crawford’s win for Mildred Pierce.

Life’s Lessons Daily Blog delves into the social and emotional significance of the Awards in More than an Award Show: Oscars, The Host and Forrest Gump (1994).

Blog of the Darned presents seven films that should have been nominated for Best Picture in Great Movies: 7, Oscar: 0.

Old Hollywood Films recaps the career and Oscar year of Janet Gaynor, The First Best Actress Winner.

Moon in Gemini recalls a wide range of Forgotten Oscar Nominees and Winners from The Racket (1928) to Brad Dourif (yes, he got the nod!)

Classic Film Observations and Obsessions investigates Agnès Varda’s turn at an Oscar with Face, Places (2017).

Silver Screen Classics examines the first film to win the “Big Five” Oscars, It Happened One Night (1934).

The Nitrate Diva analyzes Best Screenplay winner Pillow Talk, “a movie that empathizes with the problems of working women and takes their concerns seriously.”

This post is part of the Sixth Annual 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by myself, Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled, and Aurora at Once Upon A Screen.

Day 1 Posts

Day 2 Posts

31 Days of Oscar: Day Two

Aurora at Once Upon A Screen picks up with Day 2 of our Sixth Annual ‘Thon!

The Oscar frenzy continues on Day 2 of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon. Today is my day to host a group of entries covering topics from a memorable drag competition to Oscar mistakes. If you missed any of the posts from Day One, please visit Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled. Lots of terrific stuff […]

via Day Two: 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon — Once upon a screen…